Saturday, May 27, 2006

Internet is having a profound damaging effect on Australian marriages 

By Daniel Dasey
May 28, 2006

THE growing trend for people to meet over the internet is having a profound effect on Australian marriages, with cyber romances playing a role in thousands of break-ups.

Lawyers and marriage counsellors say the number of cases in which a spouse has strayed with a new partner met over the net has surged in recent years and is set to grow further as we become increasingly computer literate.

New university research shows as many as 50 per cent of people dabbling in online romances are already in relationships and many are having multiple affairs.

"It's happening more and more often, particularly over the past three years," said Eric Hudson, the western Sydney manager for counselling network Relationships Australia.

"A client will come in to talk about their partner having a relationship on the internet. The internet gives people anonymity. It allows them to create a slightly different persona and a life that's a little different from their own."

The Australian trend echoes the experience in countries such as Britain and the US.

Mr Hudson said internet affairs had become so common that counsellors were requesting specific training to deal with it. Spouses generally strayed online when intimacy and communication broke down in their off-line relationships.

Tom Altobelli, a family law practitioner with 25 years' experience and a spokesman for the Law Society of NSW, said about one in 20 of the cases he handled involved internet infidelity. He estimated that figure would be echoed in other lawyers' practices, meaning the internet could play a role in about 2500 Australian divorce cases a year.

"It's certainly coming up more and more often, especially in the past five years," he said.

Dr Altobelli's experience is mirrored in two new research papers by academics at Melbourne's Swinburne University of Technology.

Psychology lecturers Elizabeth Hardie and Simone Buzwell quizzed more than 1000 people about online behaviour and found 13 per cent had formed relationships on the internet.

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